David Jones: Dick’s no magician – don’t expect anything different from last season’s struggle

Dick Advocaat
Dick Advocaat
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Always at this time of year – with the new season a mere matter of days away – I take some time to refresh myself on the detail of what has gone before.

Call it revision, but it’s easy to forget what happened last season after the summer sunshine has melted away the anxiety of another relegation battle as a supporter of Sunderland.

To be honest, I’d forgotten how bad it was but I think it’s important to remember.

It was seven games before we managed our first win in October, another victory in November, a scramble in the derby in December, and a fourth win arriving not until the end of January.

And that was that before Dick Advocaat’s arrival in April: another derby triumph and a magic May which saw us win back to back games against Everton and Southampton to cling on to our Premier League dream.

Seven wins all season (no other team in the league won fewer games than that); 31 goals (only relegated Burnley scored fewer, and 11 fewer than QPR who finished bottom).

We could try and find some consolation in the defence which was relatively tight but the 53 goals conceded was the same total as Burnley and two more than Hull, who also went down.

It was a car crash of a season and no one is pretending otherwise.

To finish with fewer than 40 points for the third season in succession and still find ourselves safe from relegation was nothing short of remarkable.

All of the above helps to explain why in the coming days you will read predictions from national newspaper men and hear pundits talking about Sunderland as candidates for relegation again.

This is not a southern conspiracy, and I speak as someone who grew up in the North East but has now lived in London for 17 years. This is reality.

Where is the evidence to suggest anything is going to be different this time?

This is the same squad which struggled so badly to create goal-scoring opportunities to win matches last season, or indeed convert them when they came along.

It’s the same squad which relied so much on the bloody mindedness and guts of Sebastian Larsson, Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea to keep our heads above water.

I fear we are asking far too much of our manager if we are expecting anything different this time around. He is a very good coach, that we have already seen, but it’s important to remember he’s not a magician.

Every Sunderland fan knows we need more quality in the team and so does Advocaat himself.

The gulf is widening, that we saw last season when the three promoted teams almost went straight back down only for Leicester to rally at the death.

Sky Bet have only the three new boys – Bournemouth, Watford, and Norwich – at shorter odds for the drop this time round than Sunderland at 9/4.

And don’t be so hasty to write off the new arrivals.

Eddie Howe’s exciting team stormed the Championship last season plundering 98 goals in the process – 26 more than the Burnley team promoted a year earlier under Sean Dyche.

I think they’ll surprise one or two teams with just how dynamic they are, especially at home.

Even Watford scored 91 goals, but I’d be concerned about the number of players they’ve signed this summer – it’s up to 10 already and they’ll be expected to gel instantly.

Norwich have had a quiet summer after their play-off triumph and they will certainly be in the mix in the bottom half, as will West Brom – who’ve had a summer of takeover uncertainty to deal with – Aston Villa, who’ve lost their entire spine, Leicester, who replaced Nigel Pearson with Claudio Ranieri, and not forgetting Newcastle.

These are the teams Sunderland will be contesting with in the mini league at the bottom of the Premier League.

But I want to finish on a positive note.

The fixture list couldn’t really have been much kinder to Sunderland. Opening games against Leicester, Norwich, Swansea and Aston Villa affords us a massive opportunity to build some early momentum.

Throw in the new quality signings who I’m sure Lee Congerton has waiting in the wings and I’m sure Sunderland can make a mockery of the experts ... and me.